Joe Hill was executed by the State of Utah on the 19th November 1915. Born Joel Hagglund in Gävle in Sweden on October 7th 1879,he went to America in 1902 and used the name Joe Hillstrom, which he shortened to Joe Hill.
Joe had been active for many years in the Industrial Workers of the World known as the Wobblies, and had gained a reputation as a writer of ballads. (Mother Jones had been the only woman present at the initial foundation IWW meetings in Chicago in 1905)
His trial for the murder of John G. Morrison and his son Arling a Salt Lake City grocer became a national event. His subsequent conviction aroused a huge campaign to save him, Helen Keller lent her support,even President Woodrow Wilson made two unsuccessful interventions to save him from the firing squad to no avail.
His supporters believe he was executed solely for his union activities, following an unfair trial, the State authorities denied this.
Joe Hill refused to cooperate with the trial and would not explain a bullet wound he had when he was arrested. It subsequently transpired that Joe was wounded following a confrontation with a rival, a fellow Swede, Otto Appelquist for the attentions of Hilda Erickson. William M. Adler in a recent book The Man Who Never Died (Published by Bloomsbury 2011) named the most likely murderer of the Morrisons, a man the authorities had earlier arrested but subsequently released.
Why did Hill not explain how and why he was wounded, which would have provided the alibi required? Would it have mattered anyway as the authorities seemed hell bent on attacking the Wobblies? Did he come to believe that he was freer in death as a hero and a martyr rather than continue a life as an impoverished labourer? The arguments have gone on for a hundred years. His principled if perhaps reckless stand has been long debated in union circles.
“Big Jim” Larkin gave the final oration over Joe Hill’s grave and read from the letter Hill sent to his friend Elizabeth Gurley Flynn who had led the campaign to free him (even visiting the White House!). Larkin urged those present to ensure that “his blood should cement the many divided sections” of the Labour movement.
Alfred Hayes wrote and Eric Robinson put music to the Ballad of Joe Hill in 1936 and Paul Robeson performed it in Carnegie Hall. Joan Baez sang it at Woodstock in 1969. Joe Hill has inspired generations of singers;from Guthrie to Dylan, from Utah Philips to Billy Bragg, from Anne Feeney to Si Kahn…….Joe Hill lives on “where workingmen are out on strike, Joe Hill is at their side”. Here in Ireland Luke Kelly is well remembered for his version.
Joe Hill wrote some very important songs himself. He was one of an IWW group of songwriters and poets such as Ralph Chapin (Solidarity Forever) and Jim Connell (The Red Flag) who contributed to the Little Red Song Book. His best known song is the “Preacher and the Slave” from which the phrase “pie in the sky” originates, sung to the tune of “Sweet Bye and Bye”.
He wrote “The Rebel Girl” for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, while another of his compositions “Casey Jones – the Union Scab”quickly became a favourite among striking railroad men. “The Tramp” resonates with the thud of aimless walking and despair of unemployment, while “Down in the Old Dark Mill” contrasts a lost fleeting Mill romance with the brutal lasting consequences of a factory injury. His own father had died following an industrial accident involving a train when Joel was 8 years old.
During the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2015, we hope to commemorate the life, death and the legacy of the songs of Joe Hill as we approach the 100th anniversary of his execution. All are welcome to participate with a Joe Hill or union song on Saturday night 1st August from 9pm.
The 131st Durham Miners Gala will take place on Saturday July 11th 2015. Organised by the Durham Miners’ Association, the parade through the beautiful city of Durham, the subsequent Big Meeting and the blessing of miners’ banners in Durham Cathedral remain one off the greatest manifestations of trade union, labour and community solidarity in Western Europe.
The 2014 Gala, attended by over 100,000 people was a striking panoramaof banners, colour, music and good humour and drew a vast concourse of people of all ages to the city. The parade took some five hours to pass the County Hotel and down the old Elvet.
Not to be missed at the Gala are the speeches at the Old Racecourse which commence in the early afternoon, a location which houses hundreds of stalls, campaigning groups, unions, food, and plenty room for a picnic on the banks of the lovely River Wear as one watches the colliery brass bands and the banners arrive until the entire surroundings of the Racecourse are encased in the spectacular and vivid colours of the banners. This living tapestry confirms its obvious sense of community, heritage and solidarity which has outlasted those who once claimed “there is no such thing as society”.
Politicians such as Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Neil Kinnock, and Ed Miliband have stood here, trade union leaders Bob Crowe and Jim Larkin, singer Billy Bragg stood here and like countless others since 1871 have spoken to the assembled throng.In 1914, Larkin like a harbinger of doom warned miners’ against any foolishness in trusting leaders and politicians. A week later Britain was at war with Germany and the miners’ banners were not unfurled until 1919.
By way of backdrop, high on the overlooking Durham nestles one of the greatest Churches ever built, begun by Bishop Carileph in the 11th century, Durham Cathedral has witnessed human history unfold for almost a millennium, yet the annual blessing of the miners banners ranks as a truly awe inspiring ceremony and should not be missed by anyone attending the Gala.
In 2014 new banners from the Tow Law, South Shields St Hilda, Fenhall Drift, New Brancepeth, Lanchester and the Leamside and West Rainton communities were presented and dedicated following their journey to the altar behind the miners’ bands in a dignified, moving and solemn ceremony. Labour/Community and Church working together in a seamlessand common purpose recognising the men and women in working class communities who built Britain.
Near the south door to the Cathedral Cloister is the Miners’ Memorial. Erected in 1947 it is inscribed ”Remember before God the Durham Miners who have given their lives in the Pits of this country and those who work in Darkness and Danger in those pits today” The last pit in Durham closed in 1994, but the Gala and remembering goes on.
Durham city is in celebration for the day and if one wants to see the true heartbeat of labour, the legacy of the mining communities and the hope that one day the workers will bring about a just and fairer world, the “grander civilisation” of Mother Jones, then a visit to the Durham Gala is essential.
General Secretary of the Durham Miners Association, Dave Hopper attended the Spirit of Mother Jones festival in Cork and explained the history and the purpose of the Gala. Dave issued an open invite to all those interested in the legacy of Mother Jones to come along to Durham on Saturday 11th July 2015.
For details visit www.durhamminers.org. Why not visit the site and become a Friend of the Durham Miners Gala? There are direct flights to Newcastle from Cork and Dublin, Durham is but a short train journey away!
Chris Mullin was a member of the British House of Commons for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010. He studied law at the University of Hull and trained as a journalist. He wrote Error of Judgement – the truth about the Birmingham Bombings, which was later made into an acclaimed drama documentary by Granada Television and contributed hugely to the success of the campaign to free the Birmingham Six.
Chris was a great supporter of the late Tony Benn and regularly gives public talks and lectures about a man he holds in the highest esteem. He has described Tony Benn as a “life enhancer, a man who fizzed with ideas, who constantly questioned why the world is as it is”. For 35 years he was a friend and colleague of Tony Benn’s and edited two of his books, Arguments for Democracy and Arguments for Socialism.
Chris Mullin was often savagely attacked in the tabloid press but he continued to write, as an activist and being regularly the very first MP to be declared elected to Parliament in each general election.
In 1982 he wrote the novel“A Very British Coup” which portrayed how a radical left-wing government was destabilised by the conservative forces in the United Kingdom. The television version of this book, which made a huge impact won BAFTA and Emmy Awards and has been shown in more than 30 countries.
He has also written three volumes of his diaries, including “A View from the Foothills” in 2009 about his time in Government.
He served as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary in a number of government departments from 1999 to 2005 and was also Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He was the Africa minister in the Foreign Office and regarded his time in this office as thoroughly enjoyable.
Chris Mullin has lead a very varied career which has embraced political activism, defender of human rights, advocate of social justice, a sharp observer of and commentator on political events and he has also found fame as a noteworthy and acclaimed author. In addition he spent 23 years in Parliament and eventually announced his retirement in 2010. He is very much regarded as an independent thinker, a man who like Mother Jones is utterly fearless in saying what he believes in and what he stands for.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee is honoured to announce that Chris Mullin will speak at the 2015 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival which takes place in Shandon, Cork City from Wednesday 29th July until Saturday 1st August 2015.
See Chris Mullin’s website: www.chrismullinexmp.com
“The Devil is here in these hills”
From before the dawn of the twentieth century until the arrival of the New Deal, one of the most protracted and deadly labor struggles in American history was waged in West Virginia. On one side were powerful corporations whose millions bought mercenary armed guards and political influence. On the other side were fifty thousand mine workers, the nation’s largest labor union, and the legendary “miners’ angel,” Mother Jones. The fight for unionization and civil rights sparked a political crisis that verged on civil war, stretching from the creeks and hollows to the courts and the U.S. Senate. In The Devil Is Here in These Hills, historian James Green tells the story of West Virginia and coal like never before.
When rail arrived in Appalachia in the 1870s, the country’s wealthiest industrialists pushed fast into the wilderness, digging mines and building company towns where they wielded vast control over everyday life—from hiring minsters to issuing their own money. The state’s high-quality coal drove America’s expansion and industrialization, but for the tens of thousands of miners, incl8uding boys as young as ten, the mining life showed the bitter irony of West Virginia’s motto, “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” Attempts to unionize were met with stiff resistance. Fundamental rights were bent, then broken, and the violence evolved from guerrilla warfare to open armed conflicts. Eventually thousands of miners marched to an explosive showdown on the slopes of Blair Mountain.
Green’s fascinating book traces this decades-long story that has been all but lost to American memory. Based on extensive research and told in vibrant detail, The Devil Is Here in These Hills is the definitive book on an essential chapter in the history of American freedom.
James Green was one of the main speakers at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2014.
Mother Jones And Her Children is a 52 minute long documentary which outlines the extraordinary life and activities of the most famous Cork woman in America. Produced by Emma Bowell and Eddie Noonan of Cork based Frameworks Films (www.frameworksfilms.com) in cooperation with the Cork Mother Jones Committee. Highly recommended.
You can view a short (2 minute) excerpt from the film below.
At the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2014 an important paper was delivered Professor Rosemary Feurer of Northern Illinois University. Prof. Feurer, who had also spoken at the inaugural festival in Cork in 2012, examined the parallel activities of Mother Jones and the great Irish socialist leaders James Connolly and “Big Jim” Larkin, in particular looking at the similar paths they followed, both geographical and philosophical and conclusions they reached.
You can download the full text of Prof. Feurer’s lecture by clicking on the link below:-
Rosemary Feurer is Professor of History at Northern Illinois University. She co-directed “Mother Jones, America’s Most Dangerous Woman”. Author, she writes extensively on labour history. Rosemary is Administrator of www.motherjonesmuseum.org website and Mother Jones Lives. She attended the inaugural Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Cork in 2012 and delivered the above lecture at the same festival on August 1st, 2014. You can download the full lecture by clicking on the link below: